Saturday, June 4, 2016

Tommy's Take on Faith: A Garden in Hell

So I've had a chance to take a look at the Faith: A Garden in Hell preview kit for the boxed set currently on Kickstarter, and I thought I'd share my thoughts.

First off, the thing is already funded, and they are working on their third stretch goal. This is a starter set for their Faith: Sci-Fi RPG that I've not had a chance to really dig into yet. The campaign runs until June 9th and you can get in on the PDF level for $13 and the print level for $33.

The starter set (as these things tend to be) is meant to be completely playable out of the box, including pregenerated characters, a rulebook, a full campaign, a deck of enemy cards, a deck of gear cards and a deck of cards for playing a game.

Yep. No dice, this uses playing cards. Those who know of my love for Marvel SAGA knows how much that caught my interest. I am not opposed to card based play one bit. The card decks are 52 card sets, numbered 1-13, divided into suits of Urban, Wilderness, Space and OS. Now, my immediate red flag popped because each starter set only includes one deck of cards, and each player plus the GM is supposed to have a deck, but the rulebook tells you how to replace the cards with standard playing cards if you don't want to spring for multiple card decks (and the Kickstarter promises a "one deck" solution as well).

Everyone's hand size is the same (seven), and you either play cards from your hand to attempt actions (as a player) or to cause an action to fail (as the GM). The way this plays out in the game has a number of interesting tidbits to it:

  • The player determines what Skill and Attribute they are using (though they have to explain why that combination is helping them achieve the action). The Skill is their base success score and their Attribute is the number of cards they can play in order to succeed.
  • When anyone confronts an action before their turn, it costs them their action.
  • You can only play a number of cards equal to your Attribute in each round, no matter how many actions or counteractions you may be involved in.
  • You get one action per round, but an unlimited number of counteractions, based on the number of cards you can actually play.
  • Characters may have Advantages and Disadvantages in a given round, which cancel each other out...but if you have less Advantages than an opponent, you are in Inferiority, which reduces the number of cards you can play.
  • Action values can either be a success, a decisive success or a critical success, based off of the margin of success over the opponent, and providing extra boosts for outperforming your foes.
  • There are a number of interesting interactions between Skill level and card value, playing cards that match the environment you are in, and playing cards that match your character's Affinity that allow you to not only replenish your hand faster, but sometimes give you a choice between two cards to keep.
My impression of the card mechanic is very favorable. I love the hand of cards type mechanic, and they put some thought into the interplay between cards played and stats so it's not always necessarily "high card and GO", kind of like how Marvel SAGA would encourage you to play different cards based off of Edge and Trump.

The campaign book from the preview is still (understandably) incomplete, but pretty much thrusts characters into adventure right away. After their ship crashes and they have to scramble to safety. Of course, using pregens, it skips the "how did you guys meet" stage. Interestingly, it encourages you not to give them character sheets until after the opening scene is complete, at which point they pick their character. I don't think it would harm anything to let them pick their characters up front, but it's up to you.

From there, if you have never played before, a minor sample combat is included to get everyone used to the basics of the game, but if you're not new to the game, you can skip this and get on with the campaign as the PCs have to get their act together and find out what happened to the rest of their patrol and figure out how they are going to complete their mission.

The only thing that immediately jumped out at me as being a problem in the campaign (from what I could see) is that there is definitely a scene early on that hinges on either a) the PCs finding important equipment, b) the PCs succeeding on a given task or c) the PCs wandering around aimlessly until the GM just kinda tosses them a bone to the end of what feels like the first act. I suspect that most groups will hit on either a) or b), but be prepared, just in case. Of course, if you're a good, descriptive GM and you prep ahead for encounters for guys that get "lost", they may have as much or more fun stumbling along the right path. Like I said, be prepared.

The four included character folios look great, on par with Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars beginner's games. Characters have six Attributes: Agility, Constitution, Dexterity, Faith, Link and Mind, while the Skill list is held to a lean twelve. Each character has a full background, plus species information and Upgrades (both that they currently have and that they can gain, such as one character being able to breathe in any environment that has even a small amount of oxygen, while another never sleeps and a third can never become disoriented due to their "atomic balance".

The kicker that really separates this from standard sci-fi is that each character worships a God, whose commandments are listed on the character folio...and that's not all: That belief fuels these characters into even cooler abilities, like being able to cloak allies in Divine Shields, learn the history of objects by touching them, cover themselves and allies with an effect that doesn't quite make them invisible, but definitely harder to perceive, or even creating illusory objects. Much like with Upgrades, there are more listed than the characters currently have, presumably for advancement purposes.

The samples I have see of the enemy cards look great, utilizing front and back to squeeze all relevant information on the card and thus eschewing a large bestiary in the back of a book. The Kickstarter says there will be 52 of these as well.

The gear cards are a little more concerning, unless gear is meant to be unique enough that there will only be one of  given item present at a time, then it's not a big deal.

While this was based on what they sent me for the Starter Kit, it is worth noting that the website has what appears to be the full RPG rulebook, as well as the Lore guide if you want to read up more about it before diving into the Kickstarter. There's even an introductory adventure.

I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, but I like the card mechanic (and the previews of the card deck are absolutely gorgeous), and the faith-based angle is incredibly neat. I would just count on either digging out extra card decks or sinking a lot of money into additional card decks, because I can't imagine the mechanics working so smoothly with everyone sharing a deck.

Kickstarter ends in a few days. If the production values hold up to the previews, it'll be a great value, and I don't know how post-Kickstarter distribution is going to go, as the core boxed set seems difficult to find from my searches.